Biologically, James Saavedra is a fish out of water in the South, he hails from California and has only adopted Austin, Texas, as his new home base, but his aesthetic, which he calls “modern heritage,” is what the New Southern is all about. “Hand crafted, heirloom quality manifested in simple forms,” he explains, adding that authenticity and ease are at the core of his interior design philosophy.
“I love using contrast, seductive textures that beckon you to experience a space, and deceptively simple detailing that requires precision,” and of Southern style, he says, “it’s always had a foothold in graciousness and hospitality.” And most importantly, Saavedra explains, quality has always been a trademark of Southern design. “Objects and elements that will last generations, and crafted in a manner that used to be the norm,” these are the hallmarks of his craft; “I build upon this Southern foundation using simple, but highly crafted forms and intentional details. It’s the maker’s movement, he says, “a return to quality, artisanal goods produced with time and attention then interpreted in a modern way.”
Reverting back to the core of his practice—authenticity and ease—Saavedra emphasizes “holding back rather than adding on.” So where does this “California native who finds himself in the South” go for inspiration? Here, inside the mind of a New Southern designer.
Alyssa Rosenheck: How do you unwind?
James Saavedra: Cooking is my greatest stress relief and source of thoughtfulness. I’ve come to recognize that it’s the driving force in how I create. Creating things is my passion.
AR: Where should one shop in Austin?
JS: Austin is growing and while we have less than other metropolitan design hubs, we constantly have something new popping up. You’ll always make a great choice with Supply Showroom, Alexander Marchant, Nannie Inez, and Wild Flower Organics.
AR: The perfect shade of white and black?
JS: Simply White by Benjamin Moore has just the right amount of “barely there” warmth, while Farrow Ball Pitch Black #256 is a rich, velvety, and saturated black.
AR: What’s the key to making a house a home?
JS: Ease and authenticity is always achieved through thoughtfulness—for those who experience it every day and those who will gather to share moments and create memories within the home.
AR: What does a home need more of and less of?
JS: Homes need more hand-crafted belongings that tell a story and hold the energy of the artisans who created them. We should seek the beauty in their imperfections. A home always needs less trends. It instantly kills authenticity.
AR: Have you gotten any life advice that turned your day around?
JS: Everyone is doing the best that they can. Quiet makes sense out of the chaos.
AR: What about design advice?
JS: Design your ultimate vision first, then adjust as needed. It’s easier to pare down a great design than it is to add to it in the middle.
AR: Did you get any business advice when starting your firm?
JS: Two things stick out to me: Learn your craft but never think you’re finished learning, and charge what your talent is worth and pay others what they’re worth. No one does their best work for a bargain.
AR: What’s your advice for mixing old with new?
JS: Go with your gut and lead with what you love. Balance the two so that one becomes a foil to highlight characteristics of the other.
AR: Fill in the blank, “my momma always said…”
JS: Never show up empty handed.
AR: Speaking of, what’s your favorite housewarming gift?
JS: The best gifts consider the recipient, but in general I love the nuanced fragrances of Tatine candles, great letterpress, or John Kelly French Grey sea salt chocolates.
AR: What’s the greatest color combination that ever existed?
JS: Bone and bronze.
AR: Tell us something we probably don’t know.
JS: If I could be doing just one thing for the rest of time, it would be making things with my own hands.